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Open Water in Antarctic conservation

Posted by Conservators Apr 15, 2014

Author: Sue Bassett

Date: 09/04/2014

Temperature: -24 degrees C

Windspeed: None

Temperature with wind chill: -24 degrees C

Sunrise: 0905

Sunset: 1643

 

One of the highlights (so far) of this winter on the ice has been, without doubt, the opportunity to observe the effects of having open water in front of Scott Base. Usually a year-round frozen ice shelf, the open water has brought some spectacular sea mists and not just the usual populations of Weddell seals and Adelie penguins, but large numbers of killer whales and Emperor penguins (and even the occasional cruise ship!) … to literally right outside our windows. Beats television!

Morning sea mist.JPG

Morning sea mist

 

Cruise ship.JPG

A cruise ship takes advantage of the open water to take a closer look at Scott Base

 

 

Each day we have had the pleasure of watching a group of about 50 Emperors (all adolescent males, I'm told) huddle, fish, play, squawk, dive and scoot around (belly down) on the ice edge. And occasionally they'll take a long walk across the ice to what seems like nowhere in particular, usually in single file and in a very determined fashion, only to huddle for a while before returning again by foot or from beneath the ice through an open pool or crack. But, alas, as we head into our last fortnight of daylight before the austral winter darkness sets in, the sea now looks to have frozen over and, sadly for us (and perhaps also for them, as they may have been equally fascinated by the behaviours of Scott Base residents) the last of the Emperors have walked off … to somewhere else.

Emperors huddling.JPG

Huddling

 

Emperors off for a walk.JPG

Off for a walk

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Author: Meg Absolon

Date: 02/04/2014

Temperature: -34 degrees celcius

Wind speed: 0 knots

Temperature with wind chill: -34 degrees celcius

Sunrise: 0926

Sunset: 1826

 

Oh the frustration of losing things. It's a bit late for the owner now but it's nice to have found his second sock. Of course it couldn't have been in the washing machine, and it wasn't under the bed. It was in fact under the floorboards of Discovery hut. Why and how did it get there is anyone's guess. The magical mystery of missing things may never be understood. Interestingly though, the sock was also under the floorboards with other objects including empty ration bags, twine and cordage, a dust-brush, sardine can and safety pin.

 

SECOND SOCK.jpg

Second sock

 

The objects were recovered from under the floor by the outgoing AHT summer team who were undertaking structural stabilisation work on the hut which involved lifting some of the floorboards. So how did these objects manage to find their way there? Of course we can only speculate but it's likely they were simply swept into a hole in the floor which had been created by the Ross Sea Party.

The empty ration bags are unmarked and so we can't ever know what meal they contributed to. One of the bags is still tied at the top and ripped open down the side. One appears to be covered in cocoa and white crystalline grains, perhaps sugar. Taste testing is not advised for obvious reasons. Others contain a soft waxy substance also of unknown identity. I'm curious as to what they actually contained and what the men were up to on the day they emptied those bags. The image below shows the ration bags drying after being washed to remove damaging acids and salts. All stains, soot and contents are retained as important historic information.

 

RATION BAGS DRYING.jpg

Ration bags drying

 

Another interesting part of the underfloor assemblage of objects is a beautifully retained length of twined rope with a particularly strong smell. The smell isn't altogether unpleasant but it's distinctive as you open the door to the workspace each morning. The smell is very similar to pine tar which was used to saturate hemp fibres for pre-prepared wooden ship caulking, which is likely the purpose of this rope.

 

CAULKING.jpg

Caulking

It's been an interesting week contemplating the discarded or lost objects under the hut and I wonder if the loss of that sock was ever of torment to its owner.

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Author: Aline Leclercq

Date: 26/03/2014

Temperature: -25 degrees celcius

Wind Speed: 20 knots

Temperature with Wind Chill: -40 degrees celcius

Sunrise: 08.21

Sunset: 19.34

 

A paper conservator back in Spain, I arrived in the Antarctic knowing that the artefacts I would be working on for the Antarctic Heritage Trust would be very different to the European manuscripts I am used to.

Last week I had a very good example of the challenge that represents the conservation of a paper artefact here. Two wads of paper arrived on my bench in such bad condition that all the fragments of pages were stuck together. 

 

1.jpg

 

Before treatment artefacts

 

The challenge that I was presented with was multiple; being able to understand its structure, identity, history and devise a conservation plan appropriate to the context of Scott's Discovery Hut, where the items were found. The paper was very fragile and the shape it arrived in was the result of degradation. Moreover, I had to make the correct decision about the presentation of the artefact after treatment, for its return to Discovery Hut.

 

6.JPG

Aline treating the paper fragments

 

Sharing opinions and knowledge with my colleagues was very beneficial as well and together we made a decision. I discovered that the fragments were from two different newspapers, one unidentifiable and the other one from a British newspaper called 'The Review of Reviews' published in July 1893. Thanks to this information and the known history of Discovery Hut (built by Scott and his party in 1902 but where various expeditions also spent time), we decided to keep the artefact folded so as to not intervene with the shape in which it was found, but rather to access as much information contained within the pages themselves through the conservation treatment. 

DSC00834.JPG

After treatment artefacts

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Author: Stefanie White

Date: 19th March 2013

Temperature: -14.0 degrees celcius

Wind Speed: 5/8 knts

Temp with Wind Chill: -21 degrees celcius

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset: N/A

 

In Discovery Hut there is a bed (or sleeping platform) that is composed of a section of tongue and groove, originally from the ceiling of the hut itself and positioned on supply boxes beside the stove area. The area surrounding the stove became a cozy den for several desperate explorers seeking security from the harsh Antarctic environment. In the words of Dick Richards of Shackleton's Ross Sea Party (Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition 1914-1917): The hut may have been a dark cheerless place but to us it represented security. We lived the life of troglodytes. We slept in our clothes in old sleeping bags which rested on planks raised above the floor by wooden provision cases.

 

Image 1.JPG

Bed platform and sleeping aea in the hut. Credit: Stefanie White.

 

 

Before returning to Scott Base this week, Meg and I completed the conservation of the supply boxes that raised the bed. After many hours working in the soot and seal blubber drenched dark room, we learned how to overcome the difficulties working in the cold and dark of the hut. We wore leather padded gloves as opposed to nitrile gloves, which freeze immediately in cold environments. We wore Extreme Cold Weather gear and head lamps as opposed to our white lab coats and magnifying bench lights. We also defrosted ice to wash our tools and hands on the stove that we light every morning in our working container nearby.

 

Image 2 .JPG

 

Stefanie conserving the area under the bed platform in the sleeping area beside the stove.

Image 3.JPG

 

Area under bed platform mid treatment.

We devised a method to systematically map each piece of the bed platform so that upon their return after conservation our interference left minimal mark. As well as leaving minimum traces of our presence in the hut, by taking back all of our equipment and waste to Scott Base every night we also left no trace in the environment.

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Author: Sue Bassett

Date: 12 March 2013

Temperature: -25 degrees celcius

Wind speed: 20 knots

Temperature with wind chill: -41 degrees celcius

Sunrise: 06.39

Sunset:  21:21

 

 

The world has changed exponentially since I began my professional life as an archaeologist… back in the olden days when hardcopy books and journals were our main sources of information. One of the more remarkable changes is without doubt the access we now have to information on pretty much everything, via the internet. A good example occurred this week as I was treating artefacts from Robert Falcon Scott's Discovery hut, down here at Scott Base. The hut was constructed in 1902 by Scott's 1901–04 expedition, was used a number of times by Shackleton's 1907–09 expedition, used for periods by Scott's 1910–13 expedition, and again by Shackleton's depot-laying Ross Sea Party in 1915–16. The US Navy was next to visit in the late 1940s, a US research base grew alongside it from the 1950s, and a group of NZ volunteers carried out some restoration work in the early '60s, and fitted a lock to the building for the first time. So there is a long history of activity in and around the hut, which was found filled with snow and ice on several occasions, and emptied. Artefacts that remain there today could date from any of the 'heroic-era' periods of use or subsequent visits, so it's interesting to ponder how and when an artefact came to be there … and particularly satisfying to discover some evidence of its age. An object I was working on this week revealed just such information, with more than a little help from Google. It was a Primus stove made by a Swedish company, and now covered with a thick layer of black soot from Discovery hut's seal-blubber stove, suggesting it dated from one of the early expeditions. Whilst stabilising the corrosion, I discovered a small letter 'D' stamped in the base beneath the soot layer, and a quick search revealed that, from 1911, Primus stoves made by this company were stamped with a letter to indicate their year of manufacture! How convenient is that?!

 

AHT11032_1!_Side2_AT.JPG

 

So this one was made in 1914 … after Scott but in the same year that Shackleton's Ross Sea Party was stocking the refitted SY Aurora in Australia in preparation for laying supply depots for Shackleton's unsuccessful Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition in Endurance. Aurora took on supplies in Sydney and then more in Hobart before heading south in late December of 1914. So this Primus, brand spanking new at that time, almost certainly made its way from Sweden to Australia to be procured by the expedition in either Sydney or Hobart, travelled to Antarctica on Aurora, and was used in the hut by the Ross Sea Party. Cool! And that was revealed in just a few short minutes from the comfort of Scott Base, on the ice, via satellite. Whatever did we do before Google … or modern technology, for that matter?

 

Sue (bright+contrast).jpg

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Author: Aline Leclercq

Date: 28/02/14

 

This is my first time in Antarctica, and since I have been here, each day is more surprising than the day before. After two weeks of getting to know the new lifestyle and the objectives of the paper conservation work, I went last week for an evening walk. Two friends from Scott Base working for Antarctica New Zealand came with me. We were enjoying the sun and the weather, still warm at the end of the summer (already -15 ⁰C). Walking here means being well covered especially because of the wind and the temperature, but the landscape and the silence around are very special.

Image 1 (Small).JPG

The cross at the top of Observation Hill last Friday

 

We went up Observation Hill, between Scott Base and McMurdo Station, where a cross was erected in 1913 in memory of Captain Robert Falcon Scott and his party who died on their return from the South Pole the previous year. Because of the difficulty of the path to the top, and the surrounding landscape, reaching the top and arriving at the cross was a very moving experience for me … I realised the danger and the exceptional lives of these men, who came to Antarctica more than a century ago.

 

Image2 (Small).JPG

My bench at work with artefacts in conservation treatment

 

After having spent my first week on the conservation of artefacts that represent their quotidian life in the Antarctic in Scott's Discovery Hut—their food, their tools, their clothes, etc.—and getting to the cross, I had a completely different feeling about these artefacts and realised in a very concrete manner the exceptional qualities of these men. Top view, top memories …

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Author: Meg Absolon

Date: 11/02/13

 

 

What an exciting week it's been for AHT on the ice! A shift change has brought four fresh conservators to Scott Base for the winter-over season and a much anticipated home-coming for the summer conservators and carpenters. For a short time we’ve been a group of nine AHT staff at Scott Base.

Photo 1 (Small).jpg

Sue, Sefanie, Aline and Meg after fuel refill, Invercargill

 

The 2014 winter-over team consists of Lead Conservator Sue Bassett (AUS), Stefanie White (IRE), Aline Leclercq (FRA) and Meg Absolon (AUS). Following a whirlwind of introductions, inductions and field skills training we're all excited and ready to unpack artefacts from Scott's Discovery Hut for conservation treatment. And just to top off a fabulous first week in Antarctica, a pod of Orcas swam past the dining room at dinner time. Thanks for the welcome!

 

Photo 2 (Small).jpg

Aline, Stefanie, Meg and Sue just landed

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Author: Josiah

Date: 30 October 2013

Temperature: -16.6C

Wind speed: 5 knots

Temp with wind chill: -23C

Sunrise: None. It's up all the time

Sunset: 20 February

 

I love sunsets. The setting of the sun can be serenely pretty or transcendently beautiful. I spent many years fighting forest fires and saw some truly spectacular sunsets coloured by the smoky air. Here in Antarctica the sunsets have been especially wonderful.

 

1 Early season sunset (Custom).JPGEarly season sunset over Observation Hill © Josiah

 

Each sunset down here is a treasure because there aren’t very many of them. The day that I arrived in Antarctica, 1st Sept, was the first day that the sun had peeked above the horizon in about 4 months and it quickly dipped to the first sunset of the spring.

 

2 First sun rise-set (Custom).JPGFirst sun rise/set of the summer © Josiah

 

From 1st Sept to 22nd Oct we had a series of wonderful sunsets. They can last for hours here as the sun gradually slopes down toward the horizon turning the sky from pale blues to rich oranges, yellows, and fuchsias, then gradually through pastel purples and rust hues and finally into deep indigo.

 

3 Sunset from Obs Hill (Custom).JPGSunset from Observation Hill © Josiah

4 Soft sunset over the sea ice(cropped) (Custom).jpg

Soft sunset over the sea ice © Josiah

5 Sunset over Crater Hill (Custom).JPG

Sunset over Crater Hill © Josiah

 

Each sunset becomes shallower and longer as the days lengthen until eventually the sun just barely dips behind the horizon.

 

6 Dramatic sunset from Scott Base (Custom).JPGDramatic sunset from Scott Base © Josiah

 

And then it sets no more. We had our last sunset of this year on 22nd Oct. Unfortunately we had 2 days of clouds and snow on the 21st and 22nd so the technical last sunset wasn’t visible, but I did manage to get some good pictures of the sunset on the 20th.

 

7 Last Sunset (Custom).JPGLast Sunset of this year © Josiah

 

Now, although the sun no longer sets, it does sink low and traverses the Southern horizon throughout the night. For several more days, or maybe weeks, this will give us wonderful long, almost sunset shows of golden orange skies throughout the night.

 

8 Sun traversing the South (Custom).JPGThe unsetting sun traversing the southern horizon © Josiah

 

Eventually the sun will be high enough that there will be essentially no difference between night and day. Some time in February the process will reverse and the sun will gradually work its way back down to the next sunset on 20th Feb. Here at Scott Base we celebrated the final sunset of this year in grand style with the traditional Hawaiian Luau themed party.

 

9 Last Sunset Party (Custom).JPGLast sunset party © Mike

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All Change in Antarctic conservation

Posted by Conservators Oct 14, 2013

Author: Nicola

Date: 11 October 2013

Temperature: -25C

Wind speed: 10 knots

Temp with wind chill: -37C

Sunrise: 5am

Sunset: 10.20pm

 

 

When we arrived at Scott Base, Josiah and I joined a small team of 10 people who had just spent the winter on the ice. Whilst it was busy, it was also relaxed and quiet, but suddenly it’s all change. The summer season has begun and the base population has swollen to over 50 excited people, many of whom have not been to the ice before.

Image 1 (Custom).JPG

Preparing dinner in the outsoor kitchen © Issac

 

Last weekend we got to know some of the new crew as we joined them to learn Antarctic Field Skills from the specialist trainers – how to survive in the Antarctic environment, while working, having fun or in an emergency. 

 

We put together sleep kits of layers of thick sleeping bags, collected food supplies, learnt how to light camp stoves in sub-zero temperatures and discussed how to protect ourselves from frost bite. We then headed out to spend the night camping in tents similar to those used by the early Antarctic explorers.

Image 2 (Custom).jpg

Breakfast time in a blizzard - warming tea, Milo and porridge © Nicola

 

That evening, after digging a kitchen area protected by snow blocks, we heated water and dined on packets of dehydrated food. When we turned in at 11pm it was still light and the weather perfectly calm. But this is Antarctica! Overnight the winds increased and in the morning we emerged from our flapping tents into near blizzard conditions. Although I’ve done field training on my two previous trips to the Ice it was always in fine conditions, so I really enjoyed experiencing some ‘real Antarctic weather’.

Image 3 (Custom).jpg

Preparing to de-camp

    

Thanks to the training Josiah and I now feel confident as we make plans to head out to spend three months camping at the historic hut sites.  We are definitely looking forward to the experience. 

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Author: Stefanie    

Date: 20 August 2013

Temperature: -15.3

Wind speed: 12 knots

Temp with wind chill: -45

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset: N/A

 

 

Andrew Keith Jack, part of the Ross Sea Party, owned a yellow oiled jacket and slept in the same bottom bunk bed as Thomas Griffith Taylor had in 1911 in the Terra Nova Hut at Cape Evans. We know this because his name is inscribed with the same hand on both: 'A K Jack' has been written in thick bold letters on the inner collar of the yellow jacket and on the wall beside the bunk in the Hut. Thomas Griffiths Taylor also wrote his initials at the same bunk. The names on the walls continue to mark a presence, promoting historical value. 

Image1 LR.jpg

A K Jack's yellow oiled jacket

Image2 LR.jpg

A K Jack's mark in bunk

 

For most, wintering over in the Antarctic is a once in a lifetime opportunity and therefore leaving ones mark behind can be significant and meaningful. At Scott Base we cannot write our names on the walls beside our beds or leave our belongings behind when we depart. Rather, we leave behind a mark in the form of a winter-over photo, which depicts each member of our 2013 winter-over team and hangs on the winter-over wall of fame.

 

Image3 LR.jpg

Winter-over wall of fame

 

With the ever increasing light on the horizon, we can see the end of winter and anticipate the first sun rise, flight and fresh food with great excitement. But we must also prepare to say our farewells and leave. Last Wednesday, we celebrated our last supper together as a team and the following day Stefan and Marie left us. It is oddly reassuring that they remain with us in the form of floating heads in the 2013 winter-over photo…

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Space in Antarctic conservation

Posted by Conservators Jul 11, 2013

Author: Sue

Date: 26 June 2013

Temperature: -22 degrees

Wind speed: 5 knots

Temp with wind chill: -29 degrees

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset: N/A

 

 

There are many outstanding things about living for a while in Antarctica. One of them is certainly meeting some of the other people who do the same, and learning about their roles here. We, with the Antarctic Heritage Trust, are fortunate to be involved in some of the more unusual winter work—and work that changes constantly—so there's always a lot of interest and fascination from others in what we do. We regularly have visits and/or enquiries from those at Scott Base and neighbouring US McMurdo Station who are curious to know 'what artefacts are in the lab today?' And they're never disappointed.

Image 1 LR.jpg

The AHT team heads to the dome above McMurdo Station © AHT/Sue

 

A recent highlight for the AHT team was to be taken on a tour of the NASA facility at McMurdo by the two NASA engineers who are wintering-over there, and who have become our friends through our regular social inter-base darts evenings.

Image 2 LR.jpg

The dish antenna inside the dome © AHT/Sue

 

The tour involved an overview of NASA's ongoing data collection programme from the many international polar-orbiting satellites that pass overhead … on average once an hour, and collecting such data as ocean salinity and temperature measurements. This was followed by a visit to the hilltop dome housing NASA's dish antenna. There, in minus 30-something degrees, we watched in awe as the 10m dish leapt with surprising agility to its task and tracked a satellite from horizon to horizon. Fascinating stuff, and beaut to see!

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Mid -Winter in Antarctic conservation

Posted by Conservators Jul 10, 2013

Author: Jaime Ward

Date: 26 June 2013

Temperature: -19.9

Wind Speed: 0

Temp with Wind Chill: -19/9

Sunrise: n/a

Sunset: n/a

 

Recently we celebrated mid- winter in true Antarctic fashion, with an elaborate dinner at Scott Base, for the fifteen of us and 25 invited American guests. The following evening was Mc Murdo's turn which, given their number of winter staff, was a much larger event to which we were all invited.

 

Mid-winter dinner LR.jpg

Scott Base Mid-Winter dinner - Tim Delaney

 

This tradition of celebration goes back to the early expeditions, for whom the passing of midwinter must have been hugely significant, allowing them to look forward to the gradual return of the sun and a chance to get away from the cramped confines of their winter quarters.

 

http://http://www.spri.cam.ac.uk/library/pictures/catalogue/article/p2005.5.447/ Click here to see a photograph of Midwinter Day Dinner at Winterquarters Hut, June 22nd 1911.

 

Mid –winter has also given us all a reminder of that we on Ross Island are just one small part of an extensive international community of Antarctic winter residents at bases both on the continent and on the sub-Antarctic islands. A new tradition is emerging with each of the bases e-mailing their mid-winter greetings (and usually a group photo) to each of the others. We received about thirty and they now cover the dining room wall, a great reminder that in spite of all this apparent emptiness, we do still have neighbours.    

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Author: Jamie Ward

Date: 12/06/2013

Temperature: -27.7 degrees celcius

Wind Speed: 22 knots

Temperature with wind chill: -45 degrees celcius

Sunrise: N/A

Sunset: N/A

 

For the members of Scott's Terra Nova expedition, the hut at Cape Evans provided a warm, secure shelter. But the fact that it had to also accommodate all their food and equipment, whilst at the same time maintaining a useable living space, meant that space was always at a premium.

 

Beginning the excavation of the south wall of theTerra Nova hut..jpg

Beginning the excavation of the south wall of the Terra Nova hut

 

Luckily, both wooden food boxes and to a lesser extent the horses' fodder bales, provided a ready supply of regular building blocks from which extensions to the hut could be created. With the addition of roofs made from surplus timbers, the remains of packing crates, and a final covering of roofing felt and canvas, stables were fabricated and Bowers' Annex was built against the southern wall of the hut to store much of the expedition food. At around 25kg each, neatly stacked Colman's flour boxes, produced excellent external walls, strong and heavy enough to resist the worst of the Antarctic weather.

 

The remains of Bowers' Annex.jpg

The remains of Bower's Annex

 

A few years ago, the remnants of the Annex were excavated from solid ice, beneath a deep snow drift and the remaining badly deteriorated boxes were carefully removed to Scott Base for conservation. After over three months' work, this task is now complete and a total of 79 boxes, most still with their original contents, will return home to Cape Evans this coming summer. 

 

Restored flour boxes.jpg

Conserved Colmans flour boxes - JW. New timber weathers to silvery grey over a few years.

 

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Author: Marie

Date: 09/05/2013

Temperature: -25 degrees C

Wind Speed: 10 knots

Temp with wind chill: -30 degrees C

Sunrise: n/a

Sunset: n/a

 

Light is life, and so is poetry. I had this very simple thought slowly building up in my mind throughout this week.

 

We walk out of the night on Sundays. A few weeks ago, we were walking to see, between two nights, an inch of blue sky, we were looking at appearing light from under an ice roof; Now, we walk again, just to stare at the white hidden into the complete darkness.

 

An inch of blue sky, a glance into a Velasquez book by the fireplace, poems on Auroras that Jaime translated, the Aurora I saw last night, and then this morning a question: what I am going to write on? What's really meaningful here? All these precious moment merged into evidence. We're living here, as anywhere, out of light and words. There are just different lights and different words.

 

Picture2.JPG

Blue light through the ice

 

Our flashes of light are made of moon rays on the ice shelf, our city's lamps are hanging from the stars in faded green auroral curtains and the sunray touching one's hand has been swapped for an electric sparkle.

 

Picture1.JPG

Enlighten cities of ice

 

From all over the world, we're here sharing our songs and our slangs, we remember Italian and Greek, comment on English Latin roots and on Verlaine's lover.

Here we live and that's how we stand.

1

Author: Stefanie

Date: 29/05/2013

Temperature: -27 degrees C

Wind Speed: 10/13 kts

Temp with wind chill: -55 degrees C

Sunrise: n/a

Sunset: n/a

 

 

The environment in Antarctica is extremely dry. It is an average of 18% Relative Humidity in the lab at Scott Base and while the development of corrosion on metal artefacts is inhibited, the dry humidity is not so kind to organic materials. Great effort is made to prevent paper artefacts from curling during their treatments and to introduce a degree of humidity to aid the treatment of organic objects. A humidity chamber is normally constructed for this purpose:

Image1.jpg

 

Humidity chamber constructed by Stefan and Jam for the treatment of leather harnesses.

 

We also suffer the consequences of the dry environment and continuously strive to remain hydrated by drinking copious amounts of water. Our water bottles have become permanent accessories. Moisturisers and silicon barrier creams are found distributed throughout Scott Base to help combat flaking skin and cracking fingers. Some people apply sticky tape around their fingers to prevent their skin from completely splitting, some apply eye-drops daily and everyone is seen applying lip balm regularly. And so, one very memorable Sunday, we constructed our own humidity chamber. Rain was made by spraying a room down with pressure water and for a few glorious hours we basked in rain, puddles and high humidity… 

 

Image2 (Medium).jpg

Humidity Chamber constructed by Mike for the treatment of Scott Base staff.